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Conachcraig: All eyes on Lochnagar

Conachcraig: All eyes on Lochnagar

Postby denfinella » Sun Apr 27, 2014 10:38 pm

Route description: Conachcraig and Gelder Shiel, from Balmoral

Corbetts included on this walk: Conachcraig

Date walked: 19/04/2014

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 24 km

Ascent: 860m

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Easter Balmoral seemed a fitting start point for a walk on Holy Saturday. Conachcraig was hopefully going to be a fairly quiet walk despite it being a busy, sunny holiday weekend and surrounded by the tourist magnets of Balmoral and Lochnagar.

There weren't any cars in the car park when we arrived at about 9.30am - in contrast to our return. The ticket machines for the pay and display sign are currently covered up, so no charge. Instead of following the B976 up to Easter Balmoral, we took the more pleasant minor road past the ruins of St Manir's Church, and across the pedestrian bridge over the Dee. Beautiful skies seemed to be on the cards for today, which hopefully wouldn't be marred by having to take all our photos on a camera phone (the usual one was left behind at home... oops).


Through the Union Jack-lined street of Easter Balmoral, and quickly out into the forests of the Balmoral Estate. Roe (?) deer seemed to be in abundance today: we'd seen plenty from the car window during the drive along Deeside, and there were a few amongst the trees here too.


The track winds up a small gorge before reaching a crossroads. Turning left led us out into the open just after the path to Prince Albert's massive pyramidal cairn turns off. The views are consistently excellent from here onwards, helping keep the interest on the long track up Glen Gelder. Behind, the Cairngorm Plateau, still with plenty of snow.


To the right, a large group of red deer were grazing on a patch of open ground amongst otherwise heathery land by the Gelder Burn. But most of the time, Lochnagar kept eyes firmly in a forwards direction.


After a while the track forks, and we headed right to visit Gelder Shiel, set amongst a few trees with fantastic views. This is a lovely pair of polar opposites: a royal residence next to an open bothy! A couple of walkers were just making breakfast (in the latter, not the former!), with a walk back towards Glen Muick the plan for the day. After a quick poke around inside we headed up the east bank of the river on a narrow path. Unfortunately this was hard going, faint in places and often boggy - possibly making the detour via Gelder Shiel not worth the effort. After leaving the course of the burn, returning to the original hill track was by way of an eroded gully, which may or may not have been the actual path.

Once back on the track, the views continued to impress:


Despite a relatively low air temperature, the sun was strong and this was shaping up to be a scorcher, where shorts would have been more appropriate, as well as more suntan cream! But rounding a slight corner, the wind picked up, much more than was forecast, and provided a refreshing breeze which stayed with us for the whole walk - and also made us grateful for clothing which went further than the knee. A little bit of high level cloud had come in too, which softened the glare of the sun without spoiling the view.

A massive boulder sits by the track further up, which must have been used for a thousand lunch stops...


Soon the head of the valley is reached. The track ahead continues into Glen Muick here - much closer and higher than our Deeside start, but without the Lochnagar views. To the right, a busy stream of walkers headed up the path to Lochnagar itself - evidently all coming from the Glen Muick side. We were heading left though, on a much narrower and quieter path which quickly reached the Corbett summit of Conachcraig. From the first, highest summit the best views were back over the barren Glen Gelder.


Looking at a picture of the view north, you'd hardly expect the contrasting terrain to the south - this better viewed from the third summit at Caisteal na Caillich.



This walk has no shortage of lunch-stop-rocks:


from Caisteal na Caillich, the walkhighlands route describes a descent by the northwestern slopes, rejoining the outward track to return to Crathie/Balmoral. To make a circular walk, we instead headed east-northeast into Coire Buidhe. Cross-country often feels further than you expect, but it was all downhill across mainly short heather - some recently burnt, which made walking easier but stains your trousers black! Thankfully crossing the valley near the bealach between Coire Buidhe and Glen Muick wasn't soggy at all. We reached the track on the other side next to a massive pile of sand, with a couple of cyclists speeding past just before we reached it. For reference, the track is excellently surfaced all the way to Deeside from here, so perfect for bikes.

Alas, we only had feet instead of wheels, so the trudge began. In the good weather this was no real hardship. We also saw an adder for the first time - sadly though it must have been run over as it basked in the sun on the track - exceedingly unlucky given the scarcity of traffic! The Girnock Burn is eventually crossed - a pleasant spot with pretty views towards a large house at Bovaglie and the rest of Glen Girnock behind. After cresting a small rise, it's downhill all the way on a track which eventually becomes tarmac - there's a place to park your car at the deer fences just west of Buailteach which would shorten the walk out.

Back in sheep country, the minor road passes Royal Lochnagar distillery. We passed by at 4.10pm, which would have been perfect for the last tour of the day, and a great way to round off a fairly long walk. However we've visited before and didn't have any money on us anyway... never mind.

Back at the car park in Crathie, tourists and cameras were absolutely everywhere - quite a culture shock. The massive car park was completely full by now, with cars also starting to fill up the coach car park on the other side of the B976. Conachcraig, though, had been a great way to escape the crowds on Deeside, and the views were much better too!
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Re: Conachcraig: All eyes on Lochnagar

Postby AnnieMacD » Mon Apr 28, 2014 11:07 pm

Great! Glad you had a good day and got away from the tourists.
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Re: Conachcraig: All eyes on Lochnagar

Postby gaffr » Tue Apr 29, 2014 6:40 am

You have some bonny images there of the Corrie from the North side.....have only been from that side once in winter. Like most folks I sneak in from the South side as I did for visits to the big corrie and for Conachcraig. :)
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Re: Conachcraig: All eyes on Lochnagar

Postby gmr82 » Tue Apr 29, 2014 6:16 pm

I really enjoyed Conachcraig, I did it with the 5 Munros on a hot Saturday last July. It felt like one long queue going up Lochnagar, yet I had Conachcraig all to myself! Not that I'm complaining about the peace and quiet, but its views into the corrie deserve to be seen by more!
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